Ethiopian Politics: Past, Present, and Future

Hello Friends:

Here I am going to share a television interview that focuses on Ethiopian politics. In this interview, we come across Professor John Markakis, a social scientist who is very knowledgable about Ethiopia and Ethiopian state affairs, starting with the monarchy period. He has not only lived and taught in Ethiopia, but has also written a number of scholarly books on Ethiopian politics and the Horn of Africa. As a professor at Addis Abeba University in the 1960s, the period when student activism to end the monarchial system was at its peak, he was in close contact with some of the important figures of the student movement—figures like Wallelign Mekonnen, a bright student who, in his fourth year, wrote a sharp article that for the first time deconstructed Ethiopian nationalism very boldly, which he was jailed for it. The famous article, titled “On the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia,” is considered as one of the best political commentaries on Ethiopia, written by an Ethiopian; some people look at it as the blue-print for the ethnic federalist state we have today, though this current state is very far from the ideal that was envisioned. For Professor Markakis, the fact the present Ethiopia is light years away from the ideal federal democratic republic is not surprising.

According to the professor’s personal website:

Prof. Markakis has authored several books on the area and subjects of his specialisation including:

  • Ethiopia: Anatomy of a Traditional Polity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974)
  • Class and Revolution in Ethiopia (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1978)
  • National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • Resource Conflict in the Horn of Africa (London: Sage, 1998)
  • The Greeks in Black Africa (Athens: Trohalia, 1998) (in Greek)
  • Pastoralism on the Margin (London: Minority Rights Group, 2004).

His latest publication is Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers (Oxford: James Currey, 2011). Markakis presents an overarching, concise historical profile of a momentous effort to integrate a multicultural empire into a modern nation state. … In the author’s view, there are two major obstacles that need to be overcome, two frontiers that need to be crossed to reach the desired goal. The first is the monopoly of power inherited from the empire builders and zealously guarded ever since by a ruling class of Abyssinian origin. … The second frontier is the arid lowlands on the margins of the state, where the process of integration has not yet reached, and where resistance to it is greatest. Until this frontier is crossed, the Ethiopian state will not have the secure borders that a mature nation state requires.

In the TV interview, the professor articulates his understanding of Ethiopian politics really well and I very much agree with most of his comments. The interviewer, Abebe, was good too, but some of his questions failed me, which I thought were redundant or biased, something you wouldn’t expect from a journalist. I understand he has his own judgements and political opinion as an Ethiopian; however, taking a position or a stand quite visibly is no way journalistic—as far as I know, journalists must keep their personal opinions to themselves, and deal with their profession objectively. Their choice is but to remain neutral; otherwise, quit and become politician. It is unprofessional to wear a journalist mask. The moment one takes a side, whatever the topic, he or she ceases to be an “independent” presenter of news or analysis, but a shrewd political commentator that wants to score a point. As a side note: I honestly don’t understand why most Ethiopian journalists think they have to take the role of a politician all the time, or act as puppets of either the government or the opposition. Goodness, how are we going to have an “independent media” that fosters “independent thinking” if most so-called journalists present themselves, either consciously or unconsciously, as partisan supporters of one popular idea?

 Anyway, it is a video worth watching. I highly recommend it, especially to those who are genuinely interested in bringing a positive change to the Ethiopian political landscape.

Enjoy! 🙂


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